We reached New Delhi early the next morning at 2am. We were transferred to a local hotel because our flight was at 11am the next day. While unloading our bags from the bus into the hotel we were introduced to greasy delhi policemen. They were telling the bus driver that he couldn’t park there. And this was at 2 A.M. ! They took a Rs. 50 bribe and were on their way. One of the operators present there commented that ‘Give a Cop a Rs. 50 note and he’ll be willing to look the other way no matter what we were transporting’. No wonder India has the highest number of terrorist attacks. We were staying at Karol Bagh which due to the renovation for the Commonwealth Games 2010 was all dug up. As i write this post the CWG is marred in controversy. Early next morning at around 9am we were off to the airport. The last time i had been here was almost 4 years back and that time too we had barely stayed for long.
So we were on our flight to Srinagar. Everyone was apprehensive about this segment of the trip because there has been recent unrest in the valley and currently it has a curfew status. So well we were just hoping for the best! We landed as per schedule and after loading our bags we were off to our hotel. Now the hotel was named Hotel Goldenfinger. Reminds you of that Bond film no? Owned by a fan nonetheless. With that tacky name i was not sure what to expect and i wasn’t let down. It looked like shit from the outside but luckily the inside was better. Well you see ever since the perennial state of terror that the state is in, the influx of tourists is decreasing. This ‘Heaven on Earth’ is struggling to survive. The pollution levels are rising. It was a reminder to us that we were back in India after our sojourn abroad. Truly, A rude awakening.
After settling down ( the rooms were decent and even had flat screen TV’s which we hadn’t got even abroad) the plan was that we go to Dal Lake in the evening. The local shopping area was not safe to visit because of the terror threat. There was still curfew you know but its different from the one we are familiar with. There its a way of life. We actually find people moving about normally. We are only reminded about the situation when we see couple of policemen/military police posted every 100 metres. That s a really high level of security!
Evenings at Dal Lake seem to be a family affair. There were lot of people about and everyone seemed to be having fun. We went for the traditional shikara ride. Only 4 fit in one so i decided to go with the guys separate from my family. I think it cost us Rs 75 each. Decent for an hour ride around Dal Lake. We were shown places around. We had a grad old man as our boatman and he kept rambling about places like the vegetable garden, location of the movie scene where Hrithik Roshan shot for Mission Kashmir, etc. We munched on Corn and moong dal. You see, Dal Lake is a city in itself. There are boats which function as shops. These ‘shops’ swarm around you showcasing their wares and trying to cajole you into buying something from them. That s how we ended up with the corn. We told the other merchants to go away because with 4 guys in the boat there was no chance of us buying any jewellery 😀 Each boat has a cut involved in every sale made. Thats why they even take you near certain shops. People have to survive despite circumstances. We visited a Kashmir Handicrafts showroom on one of the boathouses. My parents later bought a blanket which we later found out was cheaper in the city (by about Rs.500) 😛 but hey thats how tourists luck is.
So we were back to the room and not much else was left to do. We played cards to pass the time. I learnt a lot of new games and it was fun time with those guys: Karan, Kishan, Sandeep, Shodan and Harsh.
Many people complained about the amount of leisure time we had in Kashmir. There really wasn’t much to do. The next day we set out early at 8am to be able to get out of the city before any trouble breaks out. We were going to visit Pahalgam. Its a grassland at a height where the sheep graze and during winter functions as a skiing slope. It was beautiful. We rode up on horses but the climb down was one adrenaline pumped experience. It really is something looking down steep slopes as your steed negotiates his/her way down. We had tea on top and also met some Army men with whom we posed for pictures. These Great men who live for the country deserve respect. We climbed down for lunch next to the river that flowed along the highway. On the way here we were subjected to security checking on the roads. It was the peak season of the Amarnath Yatra. There were a lot of pilgrims travelling. We dipped our feet into the ice cool waters of the river for a bit before we trudged uphill to a nearby temple where we were stranded at because it rained. After this we were on our way back to the hotel. Thus ended day 2 at Srinagar.
Day 3 at Srinagar: There was some feast of importance that day and the curfew was relaxed. So when we went out to our destination that day we were met with traffic. Our destination this time was the resort rich area of Gulmarg. Gulmarg is famous for movie scenes and the skiing slopes. Its also has ice/snow nearly all round the year. Basically there are two levels at Gulmarg. Each of which is accessible by using a Gondola(Cable Car). The fee is expensive but the service is good too. I think it cost us Rs 400 to the first level each and Rs 500 was the amount to the second level. The Levels are at quite a height compared to the base where the cable cars start off. Earlier this trip was to be made on horses until the government stepped in and installed these French made cable cars. This causes loss of employment for the horse owners but it prevents the tourists from being fleeced. I recommend you visit such places with a tour guide. Almost everyone opted only for the first level. I was interested in going to level 2 but going alone is no fun. At Level 1, we were told that if we opted for horses they would take us to a waterfall and also show us snow. We agreed. So we mounted horses again. The trip this time was longer and even though we were on steady ground i couldn’t take may pictures unlike at Pahalgam. The reason being it was drizzling. At the end point the horse keepers pointed out to a glacier like place which was still frozen. We decided to climb up. This is not something recommended for people who have altitude sickness. The air at this altitude is quite thin and many people find it tough to breathe. We guys however persevered on climbing along the sides of the glacier. The path was not clear; our footing uncertain. Somehow we made it to a certain height where mist covered us so that we could barely see ahead of us. It was time to go back. We posed for pictures and also played with the snow. Coming down was again another story.. The lack of a path accompanied with the slipperiness from the stones being wet was a dangerous way to climb down. I slipped at one place and hurt my finger on a stone before i regained balance. The fact was that i was wearing sandals and not shoes to climb. It started raining more heavily as we set out back to Level 1 cable car station. I hid the camera in my jacket to keep it safe. The next 20 minutes were the most boring and cold moments i have ever felt. Me and the tour guide, Mr. Ratnakar were the last ones on the trail and we couldn’t see anyone ahead of us. By the time we got back things looked messy. People were wet and cold. Somehow we made it to the bottom, walked more than a kilometre to our vans and were off. The rain made us change our plans. Lunch was shifted to a hotel further down the slope where i also had tea post lunch to warm me up. We also visited an apple farm and ate apples and walnuts! These walnuts were tasty! Back to the room and card games.
The last day at Srinagar was our Garden tour day. We visited the High security Shankaracharya temple on Sulaiman Hill. No cameras or cellphones are allowed. You have to leave your bags in your vehicle and climb the 200 odd steps to the temple. The gardens we visited were Mughal Gardens, Shalimar gardens and Nishat Gardens. There is not much to see in Gardens. But for a shutterbug it presents a lot of opportunity. We visited a carpet weaving factory that day and the work of the artisans amazed me. I bought a papier maché egg with some intricate paint work. With Nishat gardens, the last leg of our tour was done. We had lunch there before heading back.
We left Srinagar the next morning at 11am. Goodbye to The Valley. I am not sure if i am visit this place again or if it even would be possible in the future 😦
Our connecting flight at Delhi was at 5:50pm. There was some problem and we were delayed quite a bit. It was past 6:30 when we eventually had lift off. However there wasn’t much of a delay in our arrival time. We reached around 9pm at Bangalore and headed to my cousin’s house for the night. Sadly the journey had come to an end. I was back Home.
Coming up: Collages of Malyasia, Singapore and Kashmir.